Writer: William Shakespeare
Director and Adapter: Sara Aniqah Malik
So we’re back to Athens for the perennially crowd-pleasing Midsummer Night’s Dream. Iris Theatre has once more taken over the garden of St. Paul’s in Covent Garden with its signature mix of Shakespearean adaptation, high energy and sparky ideas.
With Sara Aniqah Malik’s production we’re taken not to ancient Greece but to 1996 America where a group of Athens High students are getting ready not only for prom, but also for the “regionals” of a Glee competition. The factional and familial tensions in the original script morph into drama between cliques of jocks, nerds and other crowds and the script is cut to focus on a few key thoughts which bring the ideas up to a more contemporary feel. It comes across as a smart twist and shows great early promise.
It’s undeniably fun – a lot of laughs, and has some fine bouncy sections like the four-way tiff in the forest between our lovestruck highschoolers and a very enjoyable performance of the mechanicals (the Glee club) of Pyramus and Thisbe. It also zooms in on the love-flower dosing by Puck, turning it into an uncomfortable effort at drugging teenagers at darkened dances and in their sleep. Questions of informed and conscious consent are robust in this production, adding a bit of bite to an otherwise lighthearted production.
It’s all overshadowed somewhat by confusing and unbalanced elements; fraternities in a high-school; the mixing of the magic and human worlds at the prom (an overlong diversion itself); and the general lacklustre presentation of the magical side. Also the fact that Demetrius is left under the influence of Puck’s potion, and this is portrayed as positive, is inconsistent and jarring when set against the (interesting) script changes with Titania railing against Oberon for robbing her of her own will and autonomy.
With some actors doubling up roles, it feels sparse rather than compact, though there are some great performances strewn about. Ricard Holt as a pompous Bottom is a highlight, and Ricky Oakley shines in his Starveling role. It’s all framed by a mix of teenage goth outfits for the magic folk and Abercrombie and Fitch-inspired schoolkid gear within the gorgeous setting of the church garden.
Malik overall puts some interesting ideas on show and focusing on the consent aspect is highly topical and invites a real connection. It’s inconsistent, however. Proper belly laughs, smart ideas, and moments of charm go some way towards raising the whole production but the moments of frustration ultimately bring it down.
Runs until 13 August 2022